The Unifying Power of Diving

It’s a wonderful thing just how diverse we humans are. We differ in skin color, gender, physical details, language, culture etiquette, clothing and customs, and these are just obvious differences above deeper ones, like values, emotions, beliefs and even how we think.

Bonaire Diver - Women in Diving - PADI Diver

As the world shrinks, cultural differences and inherent tribalism increasingly cause friction, competition, bias, rivalries, prejudice, political discourse, war, social separation and other by-products, which is one reason intercultural communication is a rapidly rising, global priority. It studies effective, positive and constructive communication across cultures, customs, borders, languages and other variations in people groups. As it happens, diving is an effective, positive and constructive intercultural communication vehicle in at least three main ways (probably more).

1. Diving teaches us a common language. If you dive internationally, you may have experienced something like this: A diver points to two fingers at their eyes, then one finger in some direction, followed by a hand vertically at the forehead. Above water, they might have shouted, “¡Mira! ¡Tiburón!,” “देखो! शार्क!” or “봐봐요! 상어!,” and you wouldn’t understand. They told you, “Look! Shark!” and underwater you got it, regardless of what voice languages you do or don’t speak. As divers, we constantly communicate with formalized signals, improvised gestures and expressions. We don’t even need a common voice language for things like predive safety checks or to help each other back onto the boat, and we communicate clearly. This is not a small point because language is the fundamental – the very heart of understanding, interaction and respect between people. It is the basis for higher level thinking, and one of the strongest factors that brings cultures together.

2. Diving generates interpersonal experiences. Social psychologist Gordon Allport’s contact hypothesis says that interpersonal contact is one of the most effective ways to reduce prejudice (i.e., create understanding) between groups, and diving together can be a close, interpersonal contact. Increasingly, dive tourism puts us with dive professionals, buddies and others from other parts of the world – at some top dive destinations today, it’s common to hear three or more languages on deck. Diving not only gives us interpersonal contact through experiences shared, but through responsibility shared. When buddied and on group tours, we rely on each other to dive safely as a team, and to be there for each other if there’s a problem. After the dive, we post and share images together, sign logbooks, get ready to go again, etc. It’s difficult to do things together and depend on each other, and not come to know and understand each other, at least a little better.

3. We are an inclusive community united by common purposes. There’s a 4th century proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” which applies very much to diving. Because we have a passion for the underwater world, anything that threatens it is our common enemy, and we unite against the threat. In the past few years alone, millions of divers around the world have come together to ban shark finning, preserve threatened species, restore coral, eliminate plastic waste and spread the healing power of diving. Against these threats and human needs, cultural differences fade because we’re in this together, and these are everyone’s problems.

Bahamas - Scuba Diver - Okay Hand Signal

As divers, our messages and images crisscross the planet in social media, drawing others from all walks and places to these causes, and to diving too. Moreover, our cross-cultural diversity adds legitimacy to what we say: When millions of divers (and those we influence) raise their voices in every country, in every language, from every culture, to every government, it cannot be a regional bias, special interest or part of a political agenda. Japanese poet Ryunosuke Satoro put it, “Individually we are a drop. Together, we are an ocean.” Wise words – and fitting. The oceans are nature’s most powerful force.

Let’s not overstate things though. Diving cannot, by itself, bring about the intercultural communication and cooperation the world needs to rise against these global challenges. But, diving is absolutely a needed unifying force pushing back against a myriad of social forces that try to divide and defeat us (meaning everyone, not just divers). In my opinion, this by itself, is a reason to be a diver, and a reason to invite others into diving.

Dr. Drew Richardson
PADI President & CEO

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